Two Year Waiting Period For Medicare Eligibility Under Social Security Disability Program Would Gradually Disappear In Proposed Legislation

As many Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) recipients already know all too well, there is currently a two-year waiting period from the day their applications are approved until they can begin receiving Medicare benefits. This policy forces people with disabilities to either find another form of health insurance (sometimes through Medicaid, if they qualify), or go without insurance entirely while they wait for Medicare to begin. (People with ALS or end-stage renal disease receive Medicare immediately.) A new bill introduced in Congress hopes to phase out this two-year waiting period altogether.

The aptly named Ending the Medicare Disability Waiting Act of 2009 was recently introduced by Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) and Rep. Gene Green (D-TX). The bill proposes to gradually phase out the two-year waiting period over the next ten years, so that in 2019 all SSDI recipients will receive Medicare benefits immediately upon qualifying for SSDI.

More than 120 advocacy groups support the legislation, ranging from Mental Health America and the National Disability Rights Network to the ARC of the United States and United Cerebral Palsy. A coalition of these groups issued an open letter to the bill’s sponsors, pointing out that under the current regulations, almost 40% of people with disabilities have no health insurance for part of the waiting period, and 24% have no health insurance for the entire waiting period.

To read the full text of the bill, click s700 for the Senate version or hr1708 for the House version.